A GROUP of current and former Conservative constituency chairmen has handed in a letter to Downing Street urging David Cameron to rethink his plans to allow gay marriage.
Tory grass roots feel “a sense of betrayal” over the Prime Minister’s “bulldozed-through” reforms, party activists claim.
The protest comes amid suggestions that about 180 Conservative MPs are preparing to oppose or abstain, including a significant number of Cabinet members, junior ministers and party enforcers, when the proposals are voted on tomorrow.
The proposals will only apply south of the Border, with the Scottish Government currently consulting on its own plans to legalise gay marriage.
Edmund Costelloe, who quit as chairman of Somerton and Frome Constituency Conservative Association last month over the policy, said: “It has been bulldozed through, it wasn’t in the manifesto, many, many people would not have voted for candidates had it been known. There is a sense of betrayal.”
Geoffrey Vero, chairman of the Conservative association in Surrey Heath where Education Secretary Michael Gove is MP, warned the move “may seriously affect David’s opportunity to get re-elected at 2015”.
Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell protested outside Downing Street as the letter was handed in, waving a placard reading “End ban on same-sex marriage. Marriage equality!”.
Mr Tatchell, coordinator of the pro-gay marriage campaign Equal Love, said: “The Conservative rebels do not represent most Tory supporters.”
“Opposition to equal marriage by some Conservatives is reviving the ‘nasty party’ image and turning off voters. It undermines David Cameron’s attempt to detoxify the Tory brand and present a more caring, compassionate Conservatism.
“The Prime Minister’s backing for marriage equality is making many voters more sympathetic to the Conservatives.
“The anti-gay marriage push by backbench rebels is likely to drive crucial centre-ground swing voters away. They will decide the next election, not anti-gay Conservative MPs and constituency associations.”
MPs will vote on the proposals, which will also allow civil partners to convert their partnership to a marriage and enable married people to change their legal gender without having to end their union.
Backbenchers have made no secret of their opposition to the move and were left even more angered when the Tory leadership made clear in recent days it would not include marriage tax breaks in next month’s budget – something that would have been seen as a concession to disgruntled traditionalists.
But Mr Cameron views the introduction of same-sex marriage as the “Conservative Party delivering the promise it made”.
He is giving his MPs a free vote on the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, which will avoid a technical rebellion, though the high numbers expected to oppose or abstain from within his party will still prove an embarrassment for the Prime Minister. Strong Liberal Democrat and Labour support means the Bill, however, will comfortably be voted to the next stage.